Saturday, June 09, 2007

Silent Summitt Has Last Word

Pat Summitt has been so many things.

She has been the greatest woman to coach a basketball team.

She has been a fierce, powerful leader. She has been a dignified Southern lady.

She has been the only coach on the planet who can look serious in orange.

If Summitt didn't get all of Geno Auriemma's jokes over the years, only a fool would have said that the joke was on her.

She has won more national championships and more games than anyone in the history of college basketball.

Pat Summitt has been so many things, and before Friday you never would have included coward and selfish among them.

Now, we must.

You don't kill the greatest rivalry in a sport without explanation. You just don't.

And that's what Summitt has done by ending the UConn-Tennessee series.

According to a number of sources, it wasn't the idea of the athletic administration in Knoxville to terminate the series. This isn't a school thing. This is a Pat thing.

Summitt hasn't been afraid of the Huskies. Her Vols played UConn when they had everything to lose and little to gain. Her Vols played UConn when they were overmatched and on the road.

Summitt didn't quit when the Huskies were in the midst of winning four national championships in five years. She didn't quit when the Huskies were running off nine wins in 11 meetings with Tennessee. She waited until the Vols had beaten the Huskies the past three times and gone on to win their first national title since 1998.

She obviously was too proud to go down as a crybaby loser. She wasn't going to run back to the Tennessee hills - if we may borrow from "Rocky Top" - lookin' for a moonshine still.

Instead, Summitt is going down as the soberest of cowards.

She has quit on the greatest rivalry in women's sports.

She has delivered a haymaker to college basketball.

And, to this point, she hasn't demonstrated the courage to tell us why.

Until she does, she should consider a yellow stripe down the back of her orange outfit.

Could you imagine if USC pulled the plug on its football rivalry with Notre Dame and Pete Carroll refused to say why?

Or Army quitting on Navy?

Together, Tennessee and UConn have lifted women and sports.

Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert is the only women's rivalry in history that can match it, and neither would have walked away from the other. They had too much respect for each other.

Jen's crossover dribble? The night in Philly the Huskies ran the backdoor all the way to the national championship? The time in Knoxville when Diana ran over to the stanchion just to punch something orange? Semeka Randall's killer shot? Everybody in Connecticut booing and Semeka loving it? Candace Parker dunking UConn? In its national celebration of sports a few years back, Sports Illustrated named each state's greatest enemy. George Steinbrenner, Steve Spurrier, the predictable names over and over. Then there was Connecticut's listing: Pat Summitt. The only woman on the list, the only women's sports figure on the list.

UConn-Tennessee is the greatest spectacle in women's team sports.

And now it's over?

Just like that?

You cannot be serious.

It is an outrage.

Nobody loves control like a successful big-time college coach, and one of the great things about this rivalry was that it was out of the control of both coaches. It was a little dangerous for both of them. You never knew what was going to come out of Auriemma's mouth. You never knew when Pat was going to shut it.

It was good theater.

Sometimes it was great theater.

It was the day on the women's sports calendar when even men's sports fans cared.

Summitt always has relished the role as the ambassador of women's basketball, the grand lady willing to do anything good for the sport.

And now she's done the worst thing possible?

Without telling us why?

It's astonishing.

This saga evidently has been going on behind closed doors for the better part of a month. At one point, ESPN's Carol Stiff went to see Summitt to try to change her mind. Auriemma was said to have had a conversation with Summitt, too.

She didn't budge.

Some sources have whispered that Tennessee was upset with UConn over the recruiting of national player of the year Maya Moore. There was one event in particular that evidently raised some hairs and was believed to have been passed on to the NCAA by someone within the SEC.

There was nothing to it, other sources insist.

Nevertheless, with the recruiting battle royal for Elena Delle Donne, whispers that UConn is anything less than honest could be seen as both dangerous and manipulative by Tennessee.

If Summitt thinks Auriemma lacks recruiting principles, she should say it.

Don't cancel a series and hide.

Or is it broader than Moore and Delle Donne?

Is this about Pat not having enough control? Is Pat worn out by the annual circus? She was the one behind dropping the series from two games a year to one. And now she's behind it disappearing. When the Vols made the trip to Hartford over the winter, there were a few comments from the Tennessee camp that they may have had enough.

Has fencing with Geno worn her out? Has the excitement and occasional contentiousness of the rivalry become too much for her? Or does she figure that Geno has more to gain by playing her than she has playing Geno? After all, Tennessee can sell the SEC and the fertile basketball of the South.

If that's the case, isn't that selfishness on Pat's part? Little girls dream about playing in the UConn-Tennessee game. Fans from all over love it, and look at all the glory brought to the Tennessee girls from the rivalry.

It's the centerpiece of the sport. The game isn't about Pat or Geno.

Heck, the two have done such a good job at it, the rivalry now is even bigger than they are.

Both coaches have won so, so many national titles and both are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Unless they get caught up in something horrible on the back end of their careers, they're home free as icons.

They are both at points when both should enjoy this rivalry.

Yet Pat Summitt is killing the series.

And two words come to mind.



We never thought we'd say that about Pat Summitt.


Contact Jeff Jacobs at

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